CCA’s legal director James M. Branum, was interviewed on Democracy Now! about Bowe Bergdahl and the conscientious objector discharge from the US military.
Editor’s note: The lawyer representing PVC Munoz, James M. Branum, is legal director for OCC.
Private still scheduled for upcoming deployment to Afghanistan
Killeen, Texas – A soldier seeking a discharge from the Army based on a conscientious objection to war has been told by the command at Fort Hood that it still intends to deploy him to Afghanistan sometime in the coming weeks.
Private Second Class Christopher Munoz, 22, applied for a C.O. (conscientious objector) discharge on June 25, 2013. He has also asked for his deployment to be delayed until request for discharge would be given a fair hearing.
Servicemembers are eligible for C.O. status if they can prove to military authorities that they are opposed to all wars, and that the opposition is grounded in religious belief or moral conviction that is sincere and occurred at some point after enlistment. PV2 Munoz’s application asserts that he qualified for this status according to the provisions of Army Regulation 600-43.
As a C.O applicant, PV2 Munoz cannot be made to carry weapons or munitions if deployed.
“If deployed, PV2 Munoz will be at significant risk for harassment by his fellow soldiers since he will effectively be a ‘dead weight’ on the unit. Despite these very real risks, PV2 Munoz’s command has said that a delay of his deployment will not be considered,” said James M. Branum, an attorney who represents PV2 Munoz. Continue reading
This press release was sent out a short time ago by the War Resisters Support Campaign of Canada. OCCPR Legal Director James M. Branum was the lead defense counsel on this case.
WAR RESISTERS SUPPORT CAMPAIGN
For Immediate Release
Monday, April 29, 2013
Iraq War Resister Kimberly Rivera sentenced to 14 months in military prison after deportation by Harper government
TORONTO—On Monday afternoon, during a court-martial hearing at Fort Carson, Colorado, Kimberly Rivera was sentenced to 14 months in military prison and a dishonourable discharge after publicly expressing her conscientious objection to the Iraq War while in Canada.
Under the terms of a pre-trial agreement, she will serve 10 months of that sentence.
Private First Class Kimberly Rivera deployed to Iraq in 2006 and sought asylum in Canada in 2007 because she decided she could no longer be complicit in the war. A mother of four young children—including two who were born in Canada—she was forced back to the United States of America by the Conservative government after receiving a negative decision on her pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA). A Federal Court judge denied her request for a stay of removal, finding the possibility of her arrest and detention in the U.S. to be “speculative.” Rivera was arrested three days later, on September 20, 2012, as she presented herself at the U.S. border.
“Kim is being punished for her beliefs and for her comments to the press while she was in Canada,” said James M. Branum, the defense attorney who represented Rivera during the court-martial proceedings. “Because she spoke out against the Iraq War, Kim’s sentence is harsher than the punishment given to 94 percent of deserters who are not punished but administratively discharged. In the closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that the judge needed to give PFC Rivera a harsh sentence to send a message to the other war resisters in Canada and their supporters.”
The tremendous public outcry related to Rivera’s case shows the deep and broad support that Canadians continue to express for Iraq War resisters. In a period of 10 days leading up to the Rivera family deportation, 20,000 people signed a Change.org petition (http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/minister-kenney-stop-the-deportation-of-iraq-war-resister-kimberly-rivera) supporting the family. Faith (http://www.united-church.ca/communications/news/general/120911b), labour (http://www.usw.ca/media/statements/opinions?id=0032) and human rights organizations spoke out, Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.ca/news/news-item/amnesty-international-expresses-dismay-in-the-case-of-conscientious-objector-kimberly) adopted Kim as a prisoner of conscience, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu published an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail newspaper (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/dont-deport-war-resister-kimberly-rivera/article4544856/) calling the deportation order “unjust.”
In stark contrast to this outpouring of support, Conservative MPs cheered when the Rivera family’s removal was announced in the House of Commons.
“The Conservative government knew that Kim would be jailed and separated from her children when they forced her back to the U.S., yet they cheered her deportation,” said Michelle Robidoux, a spokesperson for the War Resisters Support Campaign. “They are out of step with the great majority of Canadians who opposed the Iraq War and who support allowing U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.”
On February 1, 2013, the Federal Court of Canada issued a decision in the case of another U.S. war resister, Jules Tindungan, finding that the U.S. court-martial system “fails to comply with basic fairness requirements found in Canadian and International Law.” The Court also found that the Refugee Board failed to deal properly with evidence that soldiers who have spoken out publicly about their objections to U.S. military actions are subjected to particularly harsh punishments because of having voiced their political opinions. (http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/federal-court-rules-in-favour-of-us-war-resister-jules-tindungan-1752888.htm)
“The sentence Kim received today underlines the concerns we have been raising all along, and what the Federal Court now acknowledges, that soldiers who speak out against unjust wars face harsher punishment and have no recourse within the U.S. military justice system,” said Robidoux.
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney were ardent supporters of the Iraq War, and they want U.S. Iraq War resisters punished. But Parliament has voted twice to stop these deportations, and the majority of Canadians believe Kim and the other resisters did the right thing. We will continue to fight to make sure this injustice does not happen to any other U.S. war resister who is seeking asylum in Canada.”
For further information, please contact:
Michelle Robidoux, Spokesperson, War Resisters Support Campaign, 416-856-5008; or
Ken Marciniec, Communications Volunteer, War Resister Support Campaign, 416-803-6066,
Part of the work of the Oklahoma Center for Conscience is helping to provide low cost (and sometimes no cost) legal assistance to military war resisters. The following story is about one of the clients that our legal director has worked with. We urge you to read this statement and then to write a letter of support today so that this war resister can be release from prison.
Statement by SPC Justin Colby
This statement was written by SPC Justin Colby on the morning of March 22, 2013, just a few hours before he would be sent away to 9 months in military prison, reduction to the rank of Private, loss of all pay and forfeitures and a bad conduct discharge.
My name is Justin Colby and I am an Active Duty soldier serving in the United States Army. I am writing today to talk about some of my experiences serving in the US Army. I was admit right up front that there were many positive experiences about my serving the Army (and I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for many of those that I served with), but for the purposes of this writing I will focus on the negative experiences that shaped my ability to participate in this organization.
I enlisted in May of 2003. My first duty station was South Korea. While I was in South Korea, I learned about the Iraq war. Glaring discrepancies became obvious. One professor said that Iraq never attacked the United States. As I talked to other soldiers about this, none of the people I served with could seem to explain why we should attack a country that never attacked us. When I asked at the command level why we were attacking Iraq I was dismissed completely.
Eleven months into my Korean tour I was notified that I would be going to Iraq. I started researching more and asking more questions. While my unit was in Kuwait getting ready to cross over the Iraq border I explained to my first sergeant that I did not think I could participate in offensive operations against a country that never attacked us. I asked to apply for conscientious objector status. The First Sergeant made me do pushups until I was completely exhausted and humiliated. He told me that we could take “this” as high up the chain of command as I wanted, but the only result would be that I would be labeled a “domestic terrorist.” This intimidation worked and I crossed the border as commanded.
Our destination was Ar-Ramadi, Al Anbar Province, Iraq – in the heart of the Sunni triangle. Immediately, I was terrified. Our base was attacked with mortars daily. Coalition forces and Iraqi resistance fighters came to our medical facility daily, wounded and killed in action. It was very difficult for me to watch mothers cry to us as we tried to save the lives of the women wounded by US forces. On multiple occasions, soldiers opened fire on vehicles carrying unarmed women and children. This happened for a variety of reasons (but most often happened because)if the soldiers commanded them to stop and they failed to stop ,lethal force was authorized. Regardless of the reasons, watching the life slip from a three year old toddler was devastating to both its mother and myself.
I can also remember the Marines being particularly brutal in the handling of the dead bodies of the Iraqis killed in action. They would routinely toss the bodies off of their vehicles into the dirt beyond our medical facility. Watching bloodied, mutilated bodies rolling around in the dirt never felt normal to me. I can remember how we openly referred to the Iraqi casualties as “practice patients.” We routinely allowed medics to perform procedures outside of their scope of practice. As medics, we only had sixteen weeks of medical training.
To put it in perspective, imagine if you mother had a heart atack and passed away, and you had to come to the hospital to identify her – but when you saw her body, you discovered that it was essentially dissected by somebody with only sixteen weeks of training – and imagine find out it was for “practice.”
I made it through our year long deployment to Iraq only to return home to be abused by my new chain of command. I returned in August of 2005. In the late fall I found out that my girlfriend was pregnant. I married her after hearing this news (something I was very excited about), but it ended up being a nightmare. By December of 2005 I discovered that my pregnant wife was addicted to methamphetamine and was having an affair with a convicted felon (with a history of domestic violence). I immediately contacted the Colorado Springs police and Child protective service. I also filed for divorce (seeking custody of my soon-to-be-born son). I was told that this was the only way that I could prevent my soon-to-be-born son from being further harmed was to divorce my wife and demand custody.
My June of 2006 things were reaching a very bad place. I was only weeks away from finalizing the divorce (and gaining full custody of my son). But at the end of June I was told that I would be deploying to the National Training Center for training in preparation for a second Iraq deployment. Our deployment to NTC was scheduled for early July, preventing me from protecting my son. I as devastated and both my physical and mental health deteriorated. I begged and pleaded with my leadership to no avail. My life turned into a nightmare. I felt like I had to leave before things got worse. In a time of extreme emotional distress, I left my unit and went AWOL. A short time later I went to Canada where I sought legal status based on my family hardship and my moral objections to further participation in war. After I left, Child Protective Services ended up removing my son from his mother. I unfortunately was unable to gain custody myself due to my legal status with the Army. It is this aspect of my story that I regret most. I can only say that had lost all faith in the legal system to do the right thing.
While in Canada I tried to live my life as best I could. In the coming years, I formed a new family (with my Canadian common-law spouse, I had two new children). I always grieved the circumstances of why I had to leave, but I felt betrayed by the Army. I had felt that I had been required to put my own moral concerns aside to deploy the first time (doing this out of a sense of obligation to my oath and to my comrades), but when I later faced a terrible family crisis, the Army abandoned me.
By the summer of 2012 I made the decision to return to the US. I had completed the first stage of being sponsored for legal residency in Canada (based on my family ties in Canada) so I was not deported. But I made the decision to come back anyway because I wanted to take responsibility for my actions and not be separated from my extended family. I wanted my children to grow up getting to see their grandparents and their aunts and uncles in the United States. In July I returned to military custody and was eventually sent back to Fort Carson. I continued to serve (doing whatever jobs were asked of me) from July 2012-March 2013. I sought an administrative discharge in lieu of court-martial but my request was denied. Today I will be pleading guilty to the charge of desertion.
A few hours after Justin Colby wrote this, he was sentenced to 15 months in confinement, a bad conduct discharge, reduction to the lowest rank (E-1) and loss of all pay allowances (despite the fact this income is desperately needed to support his family), however, thanks to a sealed pre-trial plea agreement SPC Colby will only be serving a 9 month prison sentence.(Unlike the civilian system, military defendants who have a plea deal receive the lesser sentence of either the pre-agreed terms or what the judge thinks the sentence should be)
Justin Colby is currently being held in the county jail in Colorado Springs awaiting transport to military correctional facility. Justin will, however, have the opportunity (likely in 3-6 months) to request clemency from the commanding general of Fort Carson. We are asking for friends, family and supporters of Justin Colby to write letters to the general asking that Justin be given an early release form prison so he can be back with his family. We do ask that all letters be respectful.
Please send all letters to:
Maj. General Paul J. LaCamera
Public Affairs Office
1626 Ellis Street
Ste. 200, Bldg.118
Fort Carson, CO 80913, USA
Please also copies of the letters to Justin Colby’s civilian attorney (this is important because we need copies of the letter to submit in the formal clemency process). These copies can be sent to:
James M. Branum
Attorney at Law
PO Box 721016
Oklahoma City, OK 73172
We will be posting an address (at freejustincolby.org) where supporters can write Justin Colby once we know what military prison he is sent to (likely in early-Mid April). Until then he is being held at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His mailing address at the CJC is as follows (guidelines for letters can be found here):
Justin Raymond Colby – # 1300004791
Criminal Justice Center
2739 E. Las Vegas St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80906-1522
For further updates on Justin Colby, please go to: www.freejustincolby.org (coming soon)
by James M. Branum
As a long-time peace activist, I’ve grown a bit jaded. I’ve heard many excellent speakers when they’ve come through our city, but often after hearing them I’m left with a burning question — so what? Does the act of hearing the truth about an area of injustice really make a difference?
These questions were on my mind in early April when I drove to Church of the Open Arms to hear Ethan McCord speak about his wartime and post-wartime experiences.
Ethan’s presentation had three key components: (1) the showing of the Academy award nominated short documentary film Incident in New Baghdad , (2) Ethan telling his story, and (3) Ethan answering questions and engaging in conversation with the audience. Seeing the film was of course compelling, but the real meat of the presentation was in Ethan just telling his own story.
For those who weren’t there, let me tell you the quick nutshell version of Ethan’s story. Like most soldiers, he thought that his military service would help make the world safer and more stable, however his actual combat experiences gradually eroded these beliefs. The most significant of these experiences came on July 12, 2007, when his unit (B. Co. 2-16) came up on the site of an American slaughter of Iraqi civilians, done by way of the big guns of an Apache helicopter.
Ethan and another soldier (a 20-year old private) were the first to reach a van that had been attacked. The private saw the carnage in the van and turned away retching. In the van was the corpse of a 43 year old father (Saleh Mutasaleh) and what appeared to be two other young victims of the American air assault, a 10 year old boy named Sajah and his 5 year old sister Doaha. A short time later though, Ethan discovered that the two children were actually alive. Ethan took the girl and later the boy and tried to get them help, but his unit refused to take the children to the Army hospital, and in fact his platoon leader told him to “stop trying to save these f—ing kids.”
Events like this do not pass away easily from a soldier’s mind. Ethan tried to get mental health afterwards, but he was denied care. He had no choice but to “soldier on” and get his tour over with. When he got home, he tried to move on with his life, but PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) wouldn’t let him make an easy transition to civilian life. Still Ethan did his best to be a good father and to move on from the past.
And then came Wikileaks and their public leak of the “Collateral Murder” video (which shows in disturbing detail what Ethan had experienced on the ground — it can be viewed online at collateralmurder.org ). Ethan at first was angry to have the past thrown back in his face, but in time realized it was time to speak out about what he saw and experienced. And he has been speaking ever since.
After Ethan told his story, he went on to talk about the importance of truth telling itself and why Bradley Manning did the right thing in leaking evidence of war crimes to the world. He explained that of course Bradley may have had relationship and other problems, but that Bradley showed the full extent of his courage by telling the truth anyway.
The Christian scriptures say that the “truth will set you free,” but too often we run from the truth. We are afraid of its challenges and condemnations. Yet, we can only pretend it does not exist. The Collateral Murder video showed us all, in terrible black and white video, the terrible black and white truth of the American occupation of Iraq. What happened in the “Incident in new Baghdad” was just one day in a series of other terrible days. Thanks to Bradley Manning, we know the truth. The question is, what will we do with it.
It is imperative that we hold those in power responsible for this. And we must begin at the top, holding accountable not only the men who have been president during our Middle East wars of occupation, but also the entire notion of an imperial presidency. No single human being should have the power that the American president has today. For too long have we allowed the military establishment to crucify rank and file soldiers caught in bad situations, while ignoring the greater sins of those who command them.
And it is equally important that we do our best to protect those who tell the truth. The military is doing everything in its power to see that Bradley Manning serves the rest of his life in prison for the crime of telling the truth. It is our job, as people of conscience, to do everything in our to fight for his freedom. I urge you to join the Bradley Manning Support Network (www.bradleymanning.org) in its efforts. We also are working here in Oklahoma on Bradley’s behalf (through the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research), as we feel that we have a duty to protect one of our own (Bradley grew up in Crescent, Oklahoma).
Towards the end of Ethan’s presentation, he told us that the powers that be would love to shut him up, and of the many threats he receives for speaking out. Ethan took a risk by coming to Oklahoma.
The question for us is, will it be in vain? What will we do for the cause of truth and peace?
James M. Branum serves as the legal director of the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research (www.centerforconscience.org) and as the Minister of Peace and Justice at Joy Mennonite Church. As an attorney he has represented hundreds of American servicemembers in seeking a discharge from their military obligations. He also defended dozens of servicemembers for the “crime” of acting in accordance with their conscience.
Conscientious Objectors of Oklahoma to be remembered and honored by peace group at 5/12 event in OKC
On May 12, the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research will celebrate International Conscientious Objectors Day with its second annual Oklahoma Conscience Award Ceremony and Fundraiser. Conscientious Objectors Day is observed around the world each May 15. This year OCCPR will recognize conscientious objectors from Oklahoma or with an Oklahoma connection (stationed at one of the state’s military bases, did alternative service in Oklahoma, or did time in prison in Oklahoma for refusing to serve), including COs from the 1940s to the present.
The event will be held at Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, 3901 NW 63rd in Oklahoma City, starting at 7pm. The program will include a presentation of certificates to COs or their families, as well as a video featuring interviews with Oklahoma COs and current peace and justice activists who are inspired by them. Musically talented members of the local community, many of whom are members of OCCPR supporting organizations or other peace activists, will provide entertainment. Light refreshments will be served.
The public is invited to attend this free event. Donations will be gratefully accepted to assist the organization in its ongoing work.
Rena Guay, OCCPR Executive Director, says that meeting numerous Oklahoma COs this year has been an eye-opening experience. “I’ve been struck by how many COs from past conflicts are among us, throughout Oklahoma, seemingly average hardworking Oklahomans, who once made a very un-average decision about war.”
“They’ve never sought public acclaim for it, and they shy from this attention. Yet, when we speak to them, they say their refusal, sometimes decades ago, to wage war, and to instead “wage peace” through humanitarian service, was something that has continued to impact their thinking and behavior. It is a major milestone of their lives that almost no one knows about. Our small recognition seeks to give to them this missing public value for their act of conscience.”
“We will also have a moment to remember the many Oklahoma COs who remain unknown, or who have already passed away,” Guay said “Their families are invited to join us, or contact us if they would like for their loved one to be recognized in memorium.”
As the local affiliate of the War Resisters League, OCCPR informs the public, especially young people, about military recruitment, peace-oriented career alternatives, and how to document CO status that can be recognized by the Selective Service should the draft be reinstated. It helps prepare documentation for these proactive COS, and works with the Center on Conscience in Washington to archive and preserve them. The group also serves as the Oklahoma representative for the Bradley Manning Support Network, and works with the GI Rights Network, the Military Law Task Force, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, the Peace Alliance, SOA Watch, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and other organizations to educate Oklahomans about war and militarism, and positive advocacy and action to end war and to support nonviolent conflict resolution on a global level.
OCCPR maintains a legal support program to assist those in military service who come to realize they cannot participate in war, to provide them with information about the process of obtaining a CO discharge as defined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and, when necessary, to retain legal counsel during appeals. The group has recently broadened its outreach to provide more public education on matters of conscience and war, through its own annual journal, and in op-eds and analysis published in periodicals and on the Web.
In every war, there have been those who, following their conscience, have refused to be trained to kill in what they believe to be an immoral activity. The U.S. military has come to allow for these resisters, through either programs of alternative, humanitarian, service, or, in today’s volunteer military, through a process by which those who have developed deeply held religious or moral convictions against war can be documented and, when accepted as sincere, provided an honorable discharge.
OCCPR was founded in 2004 by members of Joy Mennonite Church, Catholic Peace Fellowship, Veterans for Peace, Oklahoma City Friends Meeting (Quakers) and independent activists. It is funded by Oklahoma religious organizations, peace groups and individual citizens. For more information, see visit centerforconscience.org or call 405-773-4741.